For centuries—perhaps even millenniums—the dog has been lovingly referred to as “man’s best friend.” This is no misnomer—they’re loyal, happy, and protective. They’re a joy to wake up to in the morning and they’re elated to see you when you get home from work. However, as with all good things in life, there is with dogs a dark side that can surface from time to time. That “dark side” of dogs, the occasional lashing out or biting of another dog or human being, can cause considerable damage which the owner of the dog might be liable for.
Florida is known as a “strict liability” state. In the Florida Statutes, under Title XLV Torts, the second issue discussed is Damage By Dogs (Chapter 767). Clearly the issue is given a high priority given its prevalence in the Sunshine State. Florida Statutes dictate that dog owners are liable for any damage caused by their dogs to any person and to any animal that is classified as a “domestic” animal or a “livestock” animal (i.e., a pet or an animal on a farm). You will be held liable for damages regardless of the past viciousness of the dog. If the dog had been completely well behaved for its entire life, and out of nowhere it snaps and attacks someone, you are liable.
Of course, there are specifications of when, exactly, a person is liable for their dog’s behavior. A person is liable for their dog’s biting of another person if the victim is bitten in a public place or in a private place to which they had received an invitation (either direct or implied). For example, if you invite a friend to your house for dinner, and your dog bites your friend, you are liable for the damages. On the other hand, if you are being robbed, and your dog bites the unwelcome intruder, according to Florida law, you may not be liable for the damages.
There is another part of dog laws that might come as a surprise to you. As with other personal injury issues, the negligence of the victim is taken into account. For example, per the first example above, if your friend is found to have been half responsible for the dog biting him (perhaps he taunted the dog or kicked it) then you will not be fully liable for the damages.
There is another technicality which can protect you against being liable for damages caused by your dog. If your dog bites someone in your residence or on your private property, and the victim is six years old or older, and you have a clearly visible, posted sign that reads “Bad Dog,” you may not liable for the damages (assuming you were not otherwise negligent). And, according to a 1951 Florida lawsuit, Romfh v. Berman, the rule still applies if the sign reads “Beware of Dog” instead of “Bad Dog” (as is common in today’s society).
Owning a dog can bring great joy to a household. It is imperative, however, to understand the risks and liabilities associated with owning a dog in the state of Florida. If you have any questions about this issue or any other legal matter, please contact the Law Offices of Aronberg and Aronberg at 561-266-9191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.